Friday, December 31, 2010

Moderation


David Broder, herb-doctor?

Moderation is a relative term. Whether its results are likely to be good, bad or indifferent depend on what's being "moderated". But when sickeningly cynical abstract hosannas to Compromise like the one delivered a couple of weeks ago by Evan Bayh and Bob Bennett become common - and literate adults start acting like they are taking them seriously - it's hard not to notice that moderation can be pathological, too. Especially when that particular instance had both apostles of moderation heartily endorsing the Obama-McConnell tax deal, which included an obscene tax subsidy for billionaires and the first concrete step toward Social Security Phaseout ever adopted by a Democratic President.

Herman Melville's novel The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857) includes a conversation between an anti-slavery Missourian and a weaselly herb-doctor. Near the end of their exchange, the Missourian confronts the herb-doctor with the question, "You are an abolitionist, ain't you?" This at a time when the battles over slavery - literal battles in Kansas Territory - had dominated national politics for years. The herb-doctor replies:

"As to that, I cannot so readily answer. If by abolitionist you mean a zealot, I am none; but if you mean a man, who, being a man, feels for all men, slaves included, and by any lawful act, opposed to nobody's interest, and therefore, rousing nobody's enmity, would willingly abolish suffering (supposing it, in its degree, to exist) from among mankind, irrespective of color, then am I what you say."

"Picked and prudent sentiments [says the Missourian]. You are the moderate man, the invaluable understrapper of the wicked man. You, the moderate man, may be used for wrong, but are useless for right."
The herb-doctor today could have a good career as a TV pundit. Come to think of it, David Broder, The Dean Of All The Pundits, may actually be the herb-doctor himself!

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